for Harbor Plan


Harbor Plan is a financial software that maps out a retirement plan for consumers. About 65% Americans are not receiving financial advice. Unfortunately, only a select few are affluent enough to work with financial advisors. Harbor Plan’s value proposition involves making retirement planning accessible and affordable. The service builds personalized plans to help consumers see a clear picture of their finances. Harbor Plan initially tasked my team to build out the remaining planning functionality of the dashboard.  More importantly, they looked for us to gather user data, validating their previous findings.


I worked within a team of three UX designers in three-week sprints: (1) User Research, (2) Concept Development and Testing (3) Reiteration, Testing, and Final Deliverable. Although the responsibilities were shared throughout the process, each designer created conducted interviews, created wireframes, led user testing, and interacted with the client.


How might we motivate pre-retirees to change the way they approach retirement planning, so that they are empowered to make their own informed decisions?

Our domain research and user interviews identified motivation as the root of the problem for boomers not taking steps to retirement planning. A lack of trust, knowledge, and misaligned priorities had contributed to a retirement crisis. Pre-retirees fail to plan for retirement or fully optimize their strategy.


Through research, ideation, prototyping, wireframing and testing, we presented solutions that addressed the three motivational barriers—trust, knowledge, and misaligned priorities and provide a lower entry for our financial novice users.

The final design was a pre-registration process that not only asked questions about a user’s financial detail, but also inspired and motivated user to plan for retirement through the following:


It encouraged the user to pick a micro-goals to take immediate action

Pre-registration posed the question to users, what small steps can I accomplish today? 

It sent emails with educational content based on selected micro-goals or retirement scenarios.

The email touchpoint that would provide additional financial information and link the user back to the Harbor Plan product.

Ultimately the pre-registeration empower our users to take steps to engage with the dashboard, which displayed the summary of their retirement plan.

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Our client team included a mixture of technologists and financial professionals who worked in the financial industry for years. They identified that many consumers put off retirement planning due to feeling intimidated by the financial landscape. Financial resources were too technical and complex for consumers. People were not equipped to make informed financial decisions. Harbor Plan’s goal was to make a retirement planning tool that was intuitive and educational to use. It was important that retirement information was accessible without losing the financial complexity. A big question that we took from the meeting was:

How do we drive curiosity, trust, and action for users when it comes to their retirement plan and goals?

The three themes—curiosity, trust, and drive, came up often in our conversation. Our team left the meeting wanting to validate our client's following assumptions based on those themes:
Financially-curious consumers are cautious and distrustful of the current resources.
Trust played an important role in financial decision-making. Clients mentioned that financial services have the lowest level of trust from consumers. Our team wanted to dig deeper to understand why low trust would be a financial barrier.
Consumers want direction not directive information.
Harbor Plan would like to empower consumers to be their own financial advisor. How much personal drive do consumers have when it comes to retirement planning? What are competitors’ approach to financial planning?
People who don’t have a financial advisor are less confident and unprepared for retirement.
Our client pointed out that financial novices could be motivated to improve their retirement planning, but don't know exactly what actions to take. What information do consumers want to see, so that they take actions?

Current beta

When Harbor Plan approached us, they developed a beta platform that helped get our footing on the project. The beta included an immersive onboarding experience that prompted users to input their financial information, introduced users to key financial concepts, and provided an optional tutorial of the core planning tools on the dashboard. Each team member interacted with the beta. I approached the beta with a high-level heuristic evaluation to note the following potential issues my team needed to address during the iteration phase:
The lengthy onboarding flow could be a potential barrier between users and the product.
Although there was a progress bar displayed, there was a lack of clarity on the number of screens per section. I counted 15 onboarding screens and 13 tutorial screens before user gets to the dashboard—that’s a lot screen before getting users where they need to be. I pinpointed opportunities to cut down the number of screens—this would increase user engagement.
The visual inconsistency required user’s to think harder about what was displayed on the screen.
The onboarding experience had visual inconsistency that required me to think about what was going on. It is important for  a product to have a visual consistency to create an intuitive experience for the user. The onboarding experience should guide users by making objects, actions, and options visible. Consistent design would increase the learnability and usability of the product.
Overall lack of hierarchy doesn’t clearly communicate what were the most important elements on the dashboard.
My assumption was that the grades were the most important element on the dashboard. The grades are positioned at the top centered. However, the other elements on dashboard demonstrated the same level of importance. It is important to prioritize what we want users to see and what we want users to do next. This made me question what user’s would care about when looking at the dashboard.
Emotional impact of the beta was missing throughout the experience.
The beta provided the necessary information for users to approach retirement planning, but the experience had a utilitarian approach. We learned that users don’t trust financial services. Harbor Plan needed to approach their product as more than just a tool. It is important to identify opportunities to humanize the experience.
During user interviews, we consciously chose not to test the beta to understand the user’s state of mind. The beta testing would function more as a potential distraction for our participants. We did not want to limit ourselves to the project scope and felt it was important to go wide on our research.


Coming into this project, I had no prior experience with investing and retirement. My teammate Grace had a confident approach to the project. She was a great asset to the team, bringing her financial background to the table. I saw my other teammate Pedro leveraging his teaching background for this project scope by simplifying the financial information in a digestible manner for consumers. Personally, I had a slight hesitation on how I could contribute to the project. I shifted my personal hesitation as a tool to empathize with our financially-curious consumers. I saw my contribution as a fresh pair of eyes to uncover our users’ attitude and behavior towards personal finances. With that in mind, I researched the domain to better understand the financial services space. Our team created the following research objectives to guide us through the process:
Evaluate if client's business goals was in alignment with consumer’s retirement goals.
Understand the financial space that serves the baby boomer generation.
Pinpoint the top competitors who provide similar services as client.
Identify current state of users who look to create a retirement plan.



The 76-million baby boomers comprised about 20% of the US population, deeming them as the largest generation in US history.

The discussion of baby boomers shaping the economy was nothing new. As these boomers transitioned to retirement, there's a need advice and guidance.

The start of our research began with reviewing sources provided by Harbor Plan and verifying their initial research with our own research. We conducted secondary research to understand the vast financial space that serves the baby boomers. Our findings provided us insights into the attitudes and behaviors of U.S. adults when it comes to retirement planning.
Confidence level among pre-retirees about retirement is at an all time low.
  • In 2016, 22% of boomers believed they were doing a good job preparing for retirement—this is a big decrease from 41% of boomers in 2012.
  • 7 out of 10 Americans had some level of anxiety around outliving their retirement savings.
A significant number of boomers postponed retirement plans.
  • Rising cost of living and healthcare caused people to work more and delay retirement.
  • Divorce impacted boomers’ retirement plans. 24% of divorced boomers were expected to be worse in retirement than if they had not divorced.
  • The term “sandwich generation” captured the challenges baby boomers faced. They lacked retirement saving due to exhausting their financial resources to take care of their children’s needs and their own parents’ needs.


As we looked closer, we noticed no company focused exclusively on retirement planning and targeted pre-retirees.

We evaluated the retirement planning services provided by a wide range of financial companies—financial advisories, robo advisors, and personal finance management apps. At a quick glance, the financial space looked pretty vast competitive. As we looked closer, we noticed no company focused exclusively on retirement planning and targeted pre-retirees. Investment banks did provide users with retirement calculators, planners, and tools but these tools were inaccessible to all consumers and came with a cost. Harbor Plan delivered a unique value proposition more focused and tailored service. 
Betterment’s RetireGuide allowed users to get a better sense where they are in their retirement savings and where they need to be. RetireGuide offered questions to understand user’s financial situation, creating a retirement projection for the user. The interface appeared simple and intuitive. RetireGuide gave users a rundown of its recommendations for how to save for retirement and suggested users to take immediate action to setting up user’s existing accounts to fully fund the needed amount for retirement.
Wealthfront launched a retirement planning service called Path. Path aimed to help young investors to start saving for retirement early. Path provide an interactive graph to allow users to figure out what different financial futures look like. Also users could find retirement-related advice through the service rather than going through a finance professional.
Based on our research,  Betterment and Wealthfront were considered the two best retirement planning service in the online space, so I explored these services further. Betterment and Wealthfront had a lot to offer novice investors, offering low fees when compared to traditional financial advisors—Betterment required no account minimum while Wealthfront required $500 minimum. In my opinion, Betterment appeared to have more standout features. Betterment has a hybrid approach to providing automated service and human contact while Wealthfront does not provide human contact with its service. The goal setting options let users customize their account by four investment goals: retirement, safety net, wealth building, and major purchase. However, Betterment’s basic idea of “set it and forget it” investing could be an area of opportunity for Harbor Plan to strengthen their position. Our client mentioned that they wanted users to be their own financial advisor. I saw Harbor Plan not only providing the human touch and actionability but also an in-depth financial resource that empower users to make their own financial steps with informed knowledge.


Five users were recruited and selected by our client. Harbor Plan was not an existing product at that time. Our users partook in a pre-questionnaire to ensure we were talking to individuals who fit our target audience. User interviews were conducted in hopes that we could identify patterns of goals, motivations, needs, and frustration. We pulled the following information from the questionnaire:


SMEs gave us a better picture of the relationship between a financial advisor and consumer. SMEs consisted of two certified financial planners (CFP), and two registered investment advisors (RIA). They shared with us the various approaches they utilize to maintain their relationship with clients. Our SME interviews aligned with our client’s assumption and the rest of our research insights.
“There are truly things one can do get to a better position, and they need to know what those are. You present yourself as a resource to get them where they need to go.”
—Ryan (Certified Financial Planner)



We leveraged Anne to explore how Harbor Plan could better design their service for her needs.

Our personas helped us understand who we were designing for. We saw Maria’s strength using Harbor Plan to inform her financial decisions through the provided resources, but we wanted to focus more on informing users like Anne about the product. Harbor Plan wasn’t an existing product at the time. We narrowed our focus to one individual because we wanted to provided our client with a final deliverable that was achievable within the short timeframe. We presented both personas to articulate the types of financially-curious users in the financial space.


Financially curious consumers thought about retirement often, but hold off retirement planning because they lacked confidence in their own knowledge and ability to navigate financial services.

Financially-curious consumers are cautious and distrustful of the current resources.
Trust played an important role in financial decision-making for users. 

Low trust was rooted from consumers feeling that service providers choose to act in their own interest rather than the consumer's interest.
Consumers want direction not directive information.
Majority of users found financial information complicated and overwhelming. 

Resources should provide guidance but also empower users to make own decision with the presented options.
People who don’t have a financial advisor are less confident and unprepared for retirement.
All participants we talked to did not have a financial advisor. 

They thought about retirement often, but majority of participants lacked confidence to take steps to prepare for retirement.


Motivation was the overall challenge for users.

Users' confidence levels regarding retirement were at the lowers in five years. Users were not taking actionable steps for retirement planning. We broke down motivations into three motivation barriers that users faced.
Lack of
Lack of
Lack of
Lack of
Some users were unable to take steps to retirement planning because the current information was overwhelming and complex.
“I have a desire to learn, but I can’t even tell you what those things are.”
—Vanessa, 62
Lack of
Trust is built overtime. Low trust was rooted from users feeling that service providers chose to act in their own interest rather than interest of the users.
“I wasn’t big enough for them and I think they took advantage of that...”
—Mary, 55
Lack of
Users lacked a sense of urgency to retirement planning. Users did not prioritize if they couldn't envision the future or their current circumstances occupied their time.
“I wasn’t big enough for them and I think they took advantage of that...”
—Mary, 55

How might we motivate pre-retirees to change the way they approach retirement planning, so that they are empowered to make their own informed decisions?


Once we identified the three motivational barriers, we saw them as areas of opportunities to explore our concepts around:
Lack of knowledge
the language
Informed knowledge could empower users to take action. Our client wanted to provide users with the financial knowledge to increase users' confidence. 

We needed to simplify the language for our users like Anne and capture the interest of our users like Maria. Also the product should give users access to the full rigor of the financial information.
Lack of trust
Create a
human presence
Financial advisors would demonstrate an understanding of client’s financial situation to build trust. In response, clients felt they were being cared for—they felt that their advisor had their best interest. 

We needed to preserve the human touch that mimics the physical financial space. The experience should make users feel like there’s a person, not a machine, at the other end.
Lack of priority
Our client wanted users to make the ultimate decision for their retirement plans. It’s important for users to understand their current financial situation or they won't prioritize if they don't understand their financial situation.

The product needed to capture users' unique financial situation to encourage actionable outcomes. The product should empower users to face the challenges of retirement planning with a renewed vigor.


We constructed a set of guidelines to influence our design decisions. These guidelines ensured that our designs moved on the right path and that we were keeping our users in mind:
I have the final say
The product should instill confidence for users to take control and make their own decisions.
Speak my language
The design should convey complex financial information in language and interface that is straightforward and easy to understand.
Show me more.
The information should be adjustable by users and adapt to different, and unique financial scenarios.
You get me
The product should affirm trust by reflecting a human touch and understanding challenges associated with life.



We conducted individual research and regrouped to share our findings. I used this opportunity to look at digital products outside the financial space and found products that offered unique solutions and experiences to enhance user engagement. I saw user engagement to connect with the interests, motivations, and goals of our users. My findings helped me generate ideas on creating better experiences for our users.

Booking experiences with Airbnb

My analysis: Airbnb constantly reshapes the travel industry. Over the years they established a trust, secure, and easy-to-use customer experience; people were opening their homes to strangers traveling their cities. On their current site, there’s a strong focus on booking “experiences.” They utilized the language and imagery to inspire users to travel, not just use its home-sharing service.

My synthesis: Our product needed to inspire pre-retirees to look forward to retirement. I saw the retirement scenarios inspiring our users to approach retirement planning in a similar manner as Airbnb’s experiences. Retirement scenarios would give users a holistic understanding of their retirement goals. As a result, this would inspire a sense of urgency to take action

Easing minds with TurboTax

My analysis: For many users, filing my taxes was never a pleasant task; I would dread that time of the year. TurboTax successfully took the daunting experience of filing taxes into a delightful one. I couldn’t help but admire the thoughtful details put into personalizing the experience. They simplified the complex form into intuitive steps, displaying progress to users.

My synthesis: With that in mind, I envisioned Harbor Plan building motivation for users through questions. Personalization with human touch was present throughout the experience on TurboxTax. TurboTax posed questions in a way that put users at ease and understood the mindset of its user. On my concept, I posed every question in a relevant and personal manner to inspire action and ease anxious minds.

User Map Scenario

Once our team landed on three concepts, we divvied up the concepts for each member to build out further. I took on the onboarding concept. I began diving deeper into understanding how to engage with users like Anne. My scenario map visualized the steps that Anne would walk through to achieve her goal.
  • Blue focused on user’s actions.
  • Yellow were questions or assumptions that I wanted to resolve.
  • Green were notes that were important at each steps.
  • Pink suggested incorporated ideas in the flow.
I initially had challenges sketching out the onboarding flow. The scenario map better surfaced the sort of user experiences I wanted to provide Anne.


How do we change user’s view on retirement when going through the pre-registration?

I took the initiative to design an onboarding concept that displayed potential retirement scenarios users could consider when retirement planning. Users lacked motivation and priority because they couldn't envision their retirement future.

Although the primary goal of onboarding was to get the users set up, I saw onboarding as a way to empower users. The onboarding flow should capture user's unique financial situation. I wanted to avoid making the onboarding feeling like a taxing registration process. The concept should inspire users to approach their future with excitement and anticipation.
Low barrier entry
The onboarding had a low barrier to entry and allowed users to explore the product before signing up. I envisioned a less upfront commitment reducing friction and increase user engagement.
Continuous guidance
Users had continuous guidance through the onboarding process. I focused on the voice and tone as means to position the product as accessible and trustworthy. I found it important to inject personality to the experience that users can relate to.
Goal-oriented copy
The copywriting oriented around retirement goals rather than the task of retirement planning. I saw this page to build motivations through creating a tangible retirement picture.



Concept #1: Scenespiration
(My concept)

This concept displayed potential retirement scenarios that users could inspire to plan in their retirement picture
Many users were receptive to the overall concept. Users expressed that the retirement snapshot helped them envision their future. The challenge is to ensure questions and goals are approachable for all user types. Some users felt the questions focused on pre-retirees with a specific background.
Concept #2: Micro-goals
(Teammate's concept)

This concept allowed users to set micro-goals in order to take action and see immediate progress on their retirement goals.
User feedback was more attitudinal compared to the other concepts. The majority of users expressed that this concept made retirement planning more approachable. The micro-goal served as working progress towards a long-term goal. It motivated users to take actions on goals they could celebrate. The micro-goal was a good starting point but needed to be more relevant to users' personal situations.
Concept #3: E-mail touchpoint
(Teammate's concept) 

This concept combined actionable insights, progress updates, and educational content to motivate and inform users
The majority of users saw value in the email content to display updates of their progress. Based on the subject lines, users preferred personalized contents. They looked for information that benefited their current financial status. Email content needed to further increase personalization to increase motivation.

Users found the overall concepts motivating, intuitive, and guiding during concept testing.

There wasn’t a strong dislike of any concepts from our six potential users and even from our clients. The majority of users mentioned that each concept could help with retirement planning. However, there was room for improvement as we moved forward. As we converged, we devoted time to connect the concepts to fit our user’s needs.


Our concepts initially sat in different points of the site. Using the takeaways from our concept testing, our team converged on a final design and developed a detailed user flow. The user flow helped us identify the converging points to get us closer to our final design.

We used Anne to demonstrate how our final design met her needs and Harbor Plan’s business outcome. On the left, the flow displayed her journey as a prospective Harbor Plan user. On the right, the flow displayed her journey as an existing Harbor Plan user. The flow wasn’t linear and branched out based on her decision points.
“We want to approach with humbleness… Many companies hide behind the veil of complexity.”
—Nick (Co-founder)


The final design was a pre-registration process that not only asked questions about a user’s financial detail, but also inspired and motivated user to plan for retirement through the following:


It encouraged the user to pick a micro-goals to take immediate action

Pre-registration posed the question to users, what small steps can I accomplish today? 

It sent emails with educational content based on selected micro-goals or retirement scenarios.

The email touchpoint that would provide additional financial information and link the user back to the Harbor Plan product.


The UX team presenting the final deliverables to Harbor Plan stakeholders.


The team and client agreed that three weeks is not enough to tie off the loose ends of the project. At the end our client found our findings valuable, providing them with a new point of view on their product. Given the time and resource constraints, we shared the following future recommendations:
Optimize the dashboard
The dashboard was not heavily tested for this project, but we gathered initial feedback from testing. We learned that grades and graph were most important to the users on the dashboard. These two elements should stand out on the information hierarchy. With that in mind, it would be important to be selective of what information should be visible. The dashboard is where users would spend the most time. It needed to not only display high-level data but also lead to an actionable outcome. We recommended further testing of the existing dashboard content and exploring additional categories.
Refine micro-goal
Our research revealed that displaying progress could potentially increase user engagement. Monitoring and tracking micro-goals had benefits to the user's approach to retirement planning. It allowed users to achieve a financial goal on an attainable scale. We recommended exploring different themes within micro-goals, with tasks that were more than only budgeting. They could assist users with the tools, software, and educational content.
Explore email contents
Email would have supplemental value to the overall experience of existing users. Our testing revealed that users leaned towards reading e-mail with benefit-based subject lines. Subject lines needed to answer user's question, "what's in it for me?" They wanted to read how other people like them were addressing retirement planning. These subjects would empower users to take actions based on the given knowledge. The email could connect users back to other components on the dashboard. We recommend further testing the type of emails as a way to increase trust.
Emphasize retirement planning tool
According to our research, budgeting played a supporting role in retirement planning. The product should implement budgeting aspect but should give less weight. Harbor Plan provided a focused service for pre-retirees. It was important for Harbor Plan to distinguish themselves a retirement planning tool, not a budgeting tool. We recommend strategically marketing the platform in that manner.


Harbor Plan was initially a challenging project that I personally encountered so far. I was completely unfamiliar with the financial space, coming into the project. However, this project taught me the importance of extensive domain research. With the short timeframe, my team successfully immersed themselves into the intricacies of an industry. We presented designs that kept the business goal in mind and supported the research. 

My team agreed that three weeks is not enough to deliver a solid solution. There was room for continual concept development and exploration.  I personally felt that our concepts exploration could’ve dived deeper into addressing motivation. We missed the opportunity to broaden our scope when ideating—this caused us to deliver a narrow product. Regardless, the collaboration was rewarding. Our client appreciated our contribution of breathing a different air into their product. My team was able to align well with our client at every phase of the project. More importantly, we were eager to learn everything we could and share to our client about our users. This project highlighted my ability to empathize with users and tell a compelling story.